Thursday, September 1, 2016

Bluetooth adventures with Ed and David

I've mentioned before that this journal changes so much in my life, for the better.

It teaches me how to inform and entertain. It earns me friendships to treasure. It allows me to speak up when I have concerns great or small. It's a way for me to share life's challenges and heartbreaks. It teaches me how to be grateful and how to pay tribute. It opens undreamed-of vistas. It helps me to adapt to life's constant change with optimism for the years ahead.

Ed Kilner is one of the friends who emerged from the process of this journal. I first met Ed on my grand 2013 tour. I stopped by briefly as I swung through Toronto headed south of the border to meet with up Bob and Karen in Pennsylvania. Then Ed dropped by our home in Montreal on his way to the Maritimes. Once Susan and I moved to Toronto, it was just a question of time before I would hit the road to explore my new home with Ed as my guide.

I owe Ed an apology for this long-overdue account of our rides exploring the country highways and byways north of the city.

Our first ride on a Friday took us to Creemore, with loops along some really nice twisty roads in the vicinity of that charming small town with its eponymous craft brewery. We snaked along River Road and the lovely sinuous country road that follows the Noisy River.

I activated a little GPS app on my iPhone that tracked our route from Ed's place, and my route back home. I should use that more often.

Along the way a family of pheasants (I think I counted five of them) flew across the road at or below shoulder height just ahead of Ed's motorcycle. At no time was there a risk of collision, but that's only because their timing kept them from harm's way. It could easily have gone much worse with huge pheasants landing unceremoniously in our laps. The bucolic incident instantly brought to mind the snake that darted in front of Roland's Vespa during our tour of the Tuscan countryside a few summers ago.

For this first outing I chose to ride the Vespa. I think it may have been the first time Ed rode in the company of Piaggio's iconic scooter. Though the GTS 300 i.e. Super Sport is certainly no match for Ed's BMW R1200RT, it kept pace easily, allowing us both to sweep and swoop through the countryside with joyous abandon. The ride was a thoroughly welcome break from working on the transformation of our new Toronto townhouse, and the thousand chores that accompany the move to a new city in a new province. Ed hastened to remark that the roads he introduced me to that day were the exception rather than the rule within a day's ride from the metropolis. He said this for fear that he had inadvertently misrepresented to me that the entire region north of the city was carpeted with similar motorcycle joy-riding opportunities.

A few weeks later Ed shot me an email saying that he had found a way for us to pair our helmet headsets. This is a big deal, like Lt. Uhura opening a clear channel with a Klingon or Romulan starship. He suggested we get together at his place and tackle the pairing job. When I arrived at Ed's, the techno-challenge took a back seat to sharing cappuccinos with Ed and Diane, accompanied by Diane's freshly baked muffins. Eventually Ed could no longer hold back his enthusiasm for the engineering challenge that might, if we were successful, allow us to ride and converse simultaneously.

No electrical engineer worth his or her salt would set out to tackle a task like this without a decent flow chart, and Ed was no exception. In the end it turned out to be much simpler than either of us expected. I suspect that Ed was at once a little disappointed that his skills were barely taxed, delighted with the successful result, and, I think, very impressed with the Sena engineers' elegant universal pairing solution that allows a Sena SMH10 to present itself to another manufacturer's bluetooth headset by masquerading as a Bluetooth-enabled phone. For Sena owners who want to explore this remarkable little bit of electronic agility, here are a few really simple steps. It's as simple as A, B, C really:
A) Upgrade the firmware for the Sena SMH10 (and this is the trickiest part) to the latest version that supports universal pairing. I did that last fall. I don't recall it being particularly difficult but it did involve downloading an application from Sena's support website and plugging the headset control module into our Apple iMac;

B) Press and hold the large jog dial on the Sena until it announces "Intercom pairing". Continue to hold the jog dial depressed until the Sena announces "Universal pairing";

C) Follow the steps for pairing the non-Sena headset (in this case a Scala Cardo G9) with the Sena, as if the Sena headset were a Bluetooth-enabled smartphone.
That's it!!

Ed diligently posted an excellent account of the pairing, and of our subsequent ride here on his blog.

With the headsets apparently paired, we set off to explore more of Ed's back yard. This time around I was riding the Honda VT750 American Classic Edition cruiser I co-own with Sonja. Certainly not a Vespa, but still an odd match for the super-sophisticated BMW R1200RT.

Copyright - Ed Kilner

I have to say I was more than a little skeptical that the pairing would yield an acceptable intercom solution. In the end I was more than a little impressed. It's important to remember that universal pairing is definitely a work-around rather than an ideal intercom pairing set up. Range and audio quality are certainly not comparable to pairing two Senas or two Scalas. That said, it works astonishingly well. Well enough to allow two riders to keep in constant contact all during a typical ride. A slight bit of occasional static is a tiny price to pay for the pleasure of being able to talk to one another on the fly. At the end of our ride as we parted company, we had an opportunity to test the working range of the universal pairing solution. I estimate the effective range at approximately five to eight car lengths, more than adequate for two motorcyclists riding normally either in a staggered or single-file formation, though considerably less than traditionally-paired Senas or Scalas. I feared that this unorthodox approach to pairing headsets might come with a susbstantial hit on the Sena's battery life, but that was a pleasant surprise as well. After hours and hours of marauding in the countryside with an open channel between us, the Sena was still as fresh as a daisy. Now that really impressed me.

Ed led us north somewhere more or less along the Guelph township line. The plan was for a short ride to test the paired headsets. I had told Ed that I needed to pop into the office at Yonge and St-Clair to print out some documents I needed for my annual corporate governance conference in Whistler. Along the way north, the weather was spectacular and the roads so tempting, that I suggested we pull over so I could see whether I could summon some help at the office to get the documents printed in my absence. I looked up the documents on the Ontario Securities Commission's web site and sent a link to my colleague. I called him using the Sena. His voice came in crystal clear, as expected. With that hurdle cleared all I needed to do was let Ed know that the afternoon was ours for the taking. I expected that we might need to do a little fiddling to re-pair the intercoms after the phone call, but lo and behold, as soon as the phone call ended there was Ed right back in my helmet. Now that was truly impressive. Not only a good and serviceable connection, but a persistent one to boot. Well done all you nameless systems engineers and architects in wherever-you-are, well done!

We continued along our merry way. Ed pointed out a nice little artisanal bakery sitting at a country crossroads. I'm sure a few of you loyal readers will instantly know why I felt compelled to stop for a quick photo opportunity.

Ed and I overcame temptation and set off once more, eventually stopping for lunch at the Tim Hortons in another lovely sleepy little village in the countryside. This one grew up around a three or four story stone mill, since converted to a nice bed and breakfast. For the life of me, I can't remember the name of the town, and my Google maps searches were fruitless.

Over lunch our conversation turned to the careers we left behind, and there we found unexpected common ground.

We both spent time working for Bell Canada, Ed as a consulting electrical engineer, myself in the company's secretariat. We both recalled the same incident that brought Bell's data communications down sometime in the late 1990's or early 2000's when an accidental short circuit in a data centre's emergency battery backup system destroyed both the primary and the secondary data node. A good lesson in how not to design a fail safe system. It was interesting exploring the same incident from our very different perspectives, Ed with first-hand knowledge of the accident, and my view of the Board of Directors and senior management in damage control mode. We found yet more common ground when I related my earlier experience exploring digital cryptographic authentication protocols in the mid-1990's. A very nice lady sitting a few tables away who couldn't help overhearing our converstation was very much impressed with our combined knowledge of the perils of digital convergence for analog businesses. I assured her that no one was seeking our wise counsel and that we had given our advice years earlier that had fallen on ears that hadn't the slightest interest in our insights. That ship has sailed and Ed and I have moved on to far more pleasant pursuits.

After a leisurely lunch we saddled up and headed south. Again, we expected to face the need to re-pair the headsets which we had powered down. But no! No sooner than we turned them on, they instantly paired once more. Very cool!

That final techno-revelation brings this chapter of Ed and David's excellent Ontario moto adventures to a close. Our mission to explore new worlds and to go where, together, we have never gone before, will continue.

So, as always, please stay tuned.


redlegsrides said...

Universal pairing of bluetooth helmet headsets.....the holy grail. I've no problems pairing Sena with Sena, but with other brands, not much luck so far.

David Masse said...

Wow Dom... the Holy Grail!

I guess we have Ed to thank for finding the grail for us :)

Geoff James said...

I've had no problem doing a universal pairing on my SMH10 with either Scala or Interphone single units. Howevever, for me at least; I've never been able to "pair" more than a single Sena at a time with another brand and that still seems to be the Holy Grail! I've simultaneously connected up to 4 SMH10's with no problem when running training courses. I believe the Sena 20S will simultaneously connect 6.

David Masse said...

Given the workaround Sena chose, that makes perfect sense. Sena headsets are 100% pure awesomeness.

RichardM said...

The "Universal pairing" works but is still kind of a kludge. I wish the manufacturers would come out with some sort of standard intercom protocol. Of course, there is little incentive for them to do that. Remember how difficult it used to be to send text messages between carriers? Kind of the same problem...

Dar said...

Pretty awesome adventure. I have a Sena and have a love hate relationship with it, there is something 'off' and hubs and I have trouble getting it to pair. We've updated the firmware. I am exploring other possibilities and they may be something your might find intriguing as you are all techier than I am. Will let you kniw if it works out.

David Masse said...

Bluetooth itself is rather intricate. It handles many disparate things, from headset to phones voice coms, music, both voice and music, keyboard to computer and mouse to computer, and robotics.

The range you get when two Senas are paired is way beyond typical Bluetooth range. That indicates that Bluetooth handles the pairing and hands off to a separate radio function using a completely different spectrum, like that used for walkie talkies. Those frequency bands are regulated and public so there's likely no reason Sena and Scala couldn't agree to play together.

David Masse said...

Dar I agree that pairing is a little tricky. The good news is that once it's done it wotks really really well.

Glad you enjoyed this little slice of life. But did you miss the bakery sign: 'Dar's delights'?

The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.